NFL Playoffs: 4 Teams You Don't Want to Bet Against
The NFL playoffs are finally here!
No, my team isn't in it (the Lions never are). But I'm excited and handing out exclamation points because there is some serious money buried in the Super Bowl betting odds.
One thing to remember about when perusing this list; it's not about the best team. The smart play is a rising or hot team with the potential for a nice payout.
Don't believe me? Fine. Go ahead and take the Seahawks at 11-5 odds. However, the amount of money you'll have to lay to reap any benefit is too rich for my blood.
So give me the long shots and the not-so-long-but-still-worth-it odds. That's where the right play lies.
Also, if you read my picks against the spread all season, thank you and I won't let you down. I might have found a way to shoehorn them in.
All odds and lines provided by FootballLOCKS.com. All advanced metrics, stats and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
Kansas City Chiefs: 35-1
It's easy to dismiss the Kansas City Chiefs because they don't have a great quarterback behind a well-tuned offensive attack. Breaking passing records is all the rage these days, and for good reason—teams like the Packers, Broncos and Patriots have won a lot of games with that approach.
But Kansas City's deficiency in that single area doesn't topple such a strong team. Think of the Chiefs as a three-legged underdog. They're capable of just as much success as the others (every team has a weakness) and besides, who doesn't want to root for a three-legged dog?
Plus, those other legs have grown quite strong.
The pass rush is capable of knocking any offense off its mark, and running back Jamal Charles is a legitimate MVP candidate. He gives them the the only offensive threat they need when the second-most-balanced defense (no huge holes) is keeping the score reasonable.
Remember, Trent Dilfer's stats weren't ridiculous, and he has a ring. The Chiefs' ability to influence the other phases of the game and a shot at the second-highest payout makes Kansas City a nice long-shot play.
San Francisco 49ers: 9-1
To balance out the aggressive wager on the Chiefs, a team that hasn't beaten a meaningful opponent in two years, we need one of the more sure bets on the board to cover the risk.
And the top tier of contenders could include just Seattle (11/5) and Denver (3/1). No one would argue with you. Well, except for me. I just meant nobody could call you an idiot, which in these heady times of Internet trolls is a huge win.
But the 49ers have won six in a row, including one against Seattle. They also put themselves in a position to win in New Orleans, which is almost as hard as winning in that dome.
Colin Kaepernick has, quietly and without much notice, put up 10 touchdowns against only one interception during that winning streak. I can't overlook that anymore. Those aren't video game numbers; they're winning football numbers because of the always-strong defense and playmakers like Frank Gore and Vernon Davis.
Now that I think about it, one could argue that with Denver's defense giving up 24.9 points a game and Seattle's struggles putting up points against difficult defenses, the Niners are the real favorite, mainly because San Francisco is a team that can exploit both of those weaknesses.
So at three times the potential payout, wouldn't you rather back San Francisco?
Cincinnati Bengals: 18-1
If you were to continue naming the favorites, you'd have Seattle, San Francisco, New England, Denver and probably Carolina. That's your main group.
But there's a giant looming in the next tier that is flying under way too many radars.
The Cincinnati Bengals are quietly an elite team. They rank in the top 10 in three out of the four major yardage categories.
They've also been quite consistent. They were competitive in every game, have no bad losses and put together five games where they completely demoralized the opponent.
The only real wild card on a team of constants is quarterback Andy Dalton. There's no telling if he'll play like the guy who threw 20 picks or the guy who tossed 33 touchdowns.
But I can remember a similar team that was lurking in the shadows and rode an up-and-down quarterback on a hot streak to the championship. In fact, he's the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
Dalton's setup isn't much different than Joe Flacco's one year ago. He has the explosive running back (Giovani Bernard), the wide receiver capable of making any play (A.J. Green) and a defense that tied for the third-most takeaways (31 total).
The value is there for the Bengals. If only we could get Dalton to see that and do his part.
Philadelphia Eagles: 20-1
Nick Foles is the best quarterback on this list. There's no other way around it—consider he finished the season with the highest passer rating (119.2) despite Peyton Manning throwing for 55 touchdowns.
Foles is excelling in Chip Kelly's quick-thinking offense. He assess his options with lightening-fast efficiency and delivers the ball with incredible accuracy as his sixth-best accuracy percentage would attest.
Additionally, running back LeSean McCoy isn't just capable of the big runs; he can also grind the clock. And the Philly offensive line opened holes for him all year, finishing with a grade that was 150 percent higher than the runner-up.
The defense still isn't elite (the Eagles allowed 348 yards to Kyle Orton), but they have enough playmakers (Trent Cole, Mychal Kendricks, etc.) to give their high-powered offense a puncher's chance.
That's all you can ask for when getting such high odds. The possible reward and Philly's play down the stretch make this a pick worth throwing a few dollars at.
Bonus Slide: First-Round Picks Against the Spread for the AFC
It's a new season now. That means my record is 0-0.
Let's break it down and get it on.
San Diego Chargers +6.5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Shocking that I would deal with the Chargers in the playoffs and with such an uncomfortable spread.
We know the Bengals can blow teams out. They've put up over 40 points in half of their last six games and failed to score at least 20 only once during that span.
The team that held them to 17? Of course. It was San Diego.
In the end, I can't lay that many points against the Philip Rivers Reclamation Project. His impossible-to-predict Chargers aren't scared of the road (27-20 win on the road) and squeaked into the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, meaning they're playing with house money at this point.
Pick: Chargers +6.5
Kansas City Chiefs +2.5 vs. Indianapolis Colts
I either need therapy regarding my trust issues or the Colts are a mirage.
Well, maybe not a mirage. They've beaten just about every contender (Denver, Seattle and San Francisco) and comfortably won the AFC South.
But I can't shake that feeling of a one-and-done Indy playoff appearance because they don't do anything particularly well. Think about it: What matchup in this game comfortably favors the Colts?
Andrew Luck doesn't have enough passing options to really scare Kansas City's shaky secondary and, if you take away one Donald Brown touchdown run from their last matchup, the running game wasn't very effective either.
In fact, the key stats from Indy's 23-7 win just two weeks ago were four turnovers and seven penalties from the Chiefs.
Those are correctable. Plus, it's hard to sweep a season series unless you're clearly the better team. I'm not putting Indy in that category.
Pick: Chiefs +2.5
Bonus Slide: First-Round Pick Against the Spread for the NFC
New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles -2.5
For so many reasons, the Saints seemed like a sure thing.
They're due on the road. All the stories about their road woes almost make it seem overblown at this point.
But the Saints were 0-3 on the road against playoff teams and only 3-2 against the rest. The domed game against St. Louis was especially scary considering the January weather in Philly won't be nearly as inviting.
However, there's also Philly's troublesome secondary. The Eagles gave up more passing yards than any other team this season and face a quarterback who has thrown for over 5,000 yards four times in his career.
But the Eagles are adept at creating takeaways. And they also don't turn the ball over (two picks for Foles). The Saints? They were the worst team in the NFC at forcing turnovers.
Opportunities will be huge in a game between two similarly stacked offenses. In the end, the Eagles will have more of them, and they only need three points to cover the spread in an outdoor game during the peak of winter.
So much for that sure thing.
Pick: Eagles -2.5
San Francisco 49ers -3 vs. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers makes one heck of a home dog, but Green Bay's home-field advantage isn't worth much against a team that only lost two games on the road.
Besides, if the weather forces a physical game where passes are difficult to bring it, the 49ers are better equipped to deal with that brand of play.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and company have been holding defensive lynchpin Justin Smith back this year in an effort to keep him fresh.
Fresh for the playoffs. We all know Smith is the guy who can manhandle and frustrate an offensive line into paying too much attention to him, leading to one-on-one matchups for San Francisco's bevy of pass-rushers.
Plus, the 49ers don't have the glaring holes anywhere on their team that the Packers have on defense. There's a reason San Francisco is favored. They don't care that Rodgers is back.
Pick: 49ers -3